Memory foam mattresses, like those made by Tempur-Pedic, have built a fan following. These mattresses use polyurethane, a material that is shock-absorbing, and this is thought to help provide relief for people with back pain. However, some people wonder if such mattresses are toxic because of the materials that go into making them. The answer is a bit complex.
Is Memory Foam Toxic?
Tempur-Pedic mattresses are made with memory foam, and memory foam has developed a questionable reputation in some circles because it is made of polyurethane. Polyurethane is a petroleum byproduct. The polyurethane is mixed with polyvinyl chloride, formaldehyde, boric acid, and other types of petrochemicals to form memory foam.
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The most harm from these substances occurs when they are new, and the materials are off-gassing. Off-gassing is that unpleasant odor you smell when you open the package of a product with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). People with a weak immune system or allergies can be especially susceptible to the odors and chemicals contained within.
However, high-quality memory foam can be produced much more safely. One such safety certification is Certi-PUR US. All Tempur-Pedic foam materials, including those in mattresses, pillows, and mattress toppers, meet the program's standards.
More on Memory Foam
The material that goes into memory foam first came out as a shock-absorbing material designed for NASA. It's now used in lots of safety products, including helmets, vests, pads, and other safety equipment. It works by displacing pressure under force, causing the force to spread rather than concentrate.
Foam mattresses, like Tempur-Pedic, do the same thing. These mattresses are particularly helpful for people with back pain. Higher-quality polyurethane is best, like those with Certi-PUR US certifications.
However, a Certi-PUR certification only means that flame-retardant chemicals were not used in the polyurethane that helps create the mattress. It doesn't cover any other materials. Other memory foam mattresses may carry GreenGuard certification, which means that the mattress has low VOC emissions. However, it doesn't mean that the mattress has no VOC emissions. GreenGuard Gold has tighter limits on VOC emissions.
Options for You
You can open the mattress outside and allow it to off-gas for at least one to two days in a well-ventilated area with cross breezes. If this isn't possible, open your windows and use fans and air filters to dissipate the chemicals or put it in a spare bedroom. Baking soda may also speed up the process.
You can also look for certified organic mattresses, many of which meet the global organic textile standard (GOTS) or the global organic latex standard (GOLS) for mattresses with latex, which is derived from rubber. The materials in mattresses certified as GOTS are at least 95 percent organic, and they do not contain polyurethane. GOLS means that a mattress has 95 percent organic latex, and some mattresses meet the standards of GOTS and GOLS.
Another certifying option is Oeko-Tex Standard 100, which doesn't mean a mattress is produced with mostly organic materials, but it does limit the amount of formaldehyde and other VOCs used. A typical organic queen-size mattress will cost around $2,000, and you'll pay a bit more for one certified as GOTS or GOLS.